Who is Leading the Mets Center Field Race?
After two weeks of spring training games, there may be a leader in the open competition for Mets starting center fielder.
As of right now, I anoint Jordany Valdespin as the frontrunner of the Mets center field race. This based purely on fan reaction collected over the last 24 hours from various Mets blog comments sections (not including this one), and, I imagine, is rooted from Valdespin’s third homerun of spring training — blasted off Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Because of course, anyone who can hit a homer off Verlander must be a future star.
Never mind that Verlander could have been working on a new pitch, or didn’t quite have his heart in a game that means nothing to him in early March. This is the rollercoaster ride known as Mets fandom.
I don’t mean to undermine ‘spin’s accomplishment. He’s doing well thus far, both at the plate and in the field. Rather, I find it amusing to watch the wild, emotional swings taken by Mets fans from one day to the next.
About a month before camp opened, there was a fairly significant consensus of fans who believed Nieuwenhuis was far and away the answer in center field. According to most, he played Gold-Glove defense and would hit at least .280-.290, with power — some suggested 25 homeruns was not out of reach. By the end of February, however, the darling became Collin Cowgill, who was certain to become the next Lenny Dykstra. Cowgill, I read from various comments sections, was an on-base machine who could steal 40 bases and hit 15-20 homers at the big-league level — all he needed was an opportunity to play. But before I knew it, Matt Den Dekker had made a spectacular catch in a ballgame, and suddenly his superior defense — most insisted his glove was as good as any current MLB center fielder — would be greatly valued and important to helping support the young Mets pitching prospects.
Then Valdy went and hit that homer off Verlander to send Den Dekker back to the end of the line.
I imagine this is the way it’s going to go for the next three weeks; someone makes a great catch, a spectacular throw, goes 4-for-4, or hits a dramatic homer, and he’ll be the new Opening Day center fielder. Of course, not all Mets fans are this rash, and one can understand how a fan might get wrapped up in the excitement. We’ve all been waiting many cold months for baseball to return, and what else is there to get excited about in regard to the Mets? We knew before camp opened that phenoms Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler would be held back due to the arbitration clock, and though there’s a similarly wide open competition for bullpen spots, well, one can only be excited about the “Bobby Parnell as closer” story so many springs in a row before it begins to sound like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Mets fans will be Mets fans, and have every right to be. What I wonder is how much the “what have you done for me lately?” question affects the Mets coaching staff. More specifically, will the center field job go to the player who looks the best all-around during the entire spring, or might Terry Collins and his cohorts be strongly influenced by the player who wows them in the final days of March? Timing is everything, after all, and memories tend to be short. This is the conundrum of a spring-long audition — do you go with the guy you think is going to be the right one long-term, or do you go with the hot hand, hoping he’ll carry the momentum north and help the team to a fast start out of the gate? There are good arguments for both sides.
As part of the Sweet Spot Network, last week I was tasked with submitting the Mets’ projected lineup for an ESPN piece. Do you know how hard it was to try to project the Mets’ outfield? Of course you do, you’re paying attention. In the end I settled on Collin Cowgill in center field, leading off. I’m not sure that’s the way things will shake out — it was based somewhat on non-scientific guesswork and mostly on picking a name out of a hat.
As of today, Valdespin could be the leader. By the end of the week, maybe it’s Cowgill. Perhaps Captain Kirk will reclaim the position once he returns from injury. Heck, maybe Mike Baxter will come out of nowhere and steal center field from all of them.
What’s your thought? Who is leading the Mets center field race as of today? Who will be standing in center field on Opening Day? And how would YOU make the final choice? Answer in the comments.